Magnum Opus

One must be careful of books, and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” – Cassandra Clare, The Infernal Devices

There is nothing more fearful for figures of authority than outright, subversive and unabashedly written words – words that cut beneath the veneer of propaganda and lies. For everything that is morally and ethically wrong in the world, a book has been published to challenge, criticise and undermine its credibility and right to rule. Yet, however potent and pivotal words are, the cost of speaking out in retaliation may very well be our lives. Sure, while Orwell says that “in times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act,” it is more intuitive to avoid confrontation with a possible death sentence. Who would rather dive into a precarious situation of life against death, barely contemplating about the risks ahead?

The purpose of “the pen is mightier than the sword” serves as a reminder to individuals who are under unrelenting draconian rule of the government, racial or religious oppression or any other kind of challenge to your freedom, that beyond your sheer discomforts in life, sometimes the power to undermine such authority are plain and simple truths. Truths that reflect the death and destruction, profiling and marginalisation in your society. Truths that highlight the ineffectiveness and corruption of the authorities above you. And truths that cry out to the larger world that this is not right. All it takes is one good phrase to tear down the walls of your oppressors.

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Introversion

I never fail to completely immerse myself in endless throes of self-thought and reflection – upon life, the quotidian and seemingly innocuous entity. Relishing in solitude from days on end, amidst the destructive nature of what politicians call “progress”, I have come to terms with what lies beyond my self-pitying, pseudo-clairvoyant personality. No matter our choice, our version of lies and the purported truth, we do not live in silos. The more I think, the less I become. And on and on, it goes. The thinner the thread, the deeper my thoughts roam – and forever into the unknown. Surely, I must know, that there is someone out there, someone that we know. Similar in our traits, like we’re family. But not by blood, no. But by the way we think, act and reflect. We think. A lot. More often than we act, yes. That’s just how we are. We do not concern ourselves with the matters of others right in front of us. Unless, well, something inside us itches to be understood – our perspective of things, our ethical thoughts, our time to declare what bothers us deeply. How often is that though, that the introvert speaks? Hardly, I’d say. Of course we hate parties! We barely know anyone there! Bring us to a party with all our friends, and boy, we’ll enjoy it to the very last drip of juice. It’s not that we really hate them, those social-extroverts. It’s just, many a times, they cannot fathom why we need our space, our minds and some time to be alone. There’s hardly any point to explain to them – and to the whole world too. But, you know what I mean don’t you?

Time

The more we have of it, the less we pay attention to it – and the more diluted it becomes. Yet, when time is off the essence, we can never grasp more of it. We pray, and our knees we implore, “I just need more time, please.” But rarely do we receive more of time – an entity which governs us equal. What you have is already done, and yet there is more to come.

Winning What Matters Most

Winning the argument, but losing the friendship.

It is challenging to sustain an argument worthy enough to create contention between friends. Sometimes, it proves to be more than a mere struggle in trying to convey your unbiased opinion on certain matters without evoking strong emotions from your friends. There are countless underlying factors that one would often weigh against the stirring of the topic of debate – and sometimes one of the many vital reasons include whether our argument is worth the animosity; whether the friction is as worthy as the intended fire. Because in the grander scheme of things, if the friendship is destroyed due to you driving your point too hard, the argument is not won at all.

Weighing the argument is beyond the petty details of what is right and what is not, but rather, whether is it of critical importance to either one of you. Some topics are contentious by nature, such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, religious perspectives of Christianity versus Islam, pro-choice versus pro-life, and the list goes on. Most of these arguments (while surely there are some books or debates that lean completely on one side, dissing the other faction) simply have no foreseeable ends to their bombardment of justifications, evidences and strong-spirited sentences. These serves as the writer’s ammunitions to persuade the readers through beautifully crafted writing and destroy the soft opinions of those standing on the other side of the argument. But when the argument on whether coffee should be taken black or with cream and sugar festers into a heated one, one should reconsider whether the debate is worth the strain in friendship. Unless, of course, we’re talking about the sins and vices of life. Obsessive gambling and drinking habits, perpetual lying and unnecessary anger outburst. If these are the main purpose of the discussion (maybe an intervention), I believe that speaking the truth in the person or people’s life is necessary – and losing the friendship, if push comes to shove, is the drawback then it’s a risk we have to take for positive change. As Orwell says, “telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Thus, it is imperative that we understand what the argument is not about, but who the argument will concern and affect.

Sometimes when rooting for a specific point of perspective, the point of the argument is not to diminish the other person’s standpoint, but to boost yours up. In a game where the purpose is to win, and you are given the ability and choice to sabotage your opposing team by using an advantage that you have (while weighing opportunity cost). Though the act of sabotaging is not wrong as it eliminates your competitors, whom they serve as obstacles in your league, but in an argument, putting others down just so you can “win” the argument is purely hubristic. Are you that desperate that you are compelled to win the argument at the cost of your own values? Like I mentioned, if the debate was about menial things like which is the fruit that should go extinct, then I’d say you have lost purpose in life if you are willing to jeopardise that friendship.

Your opponent’s arguments should only be dismissed if there is a flaw in logical thought, false truth to debunk and if they sound morally and ethically wrong. In the law of deductive thought, the argument of such is that if you should attack your opponent is their flaw in thought, such as having a wrong assumption and drawing more arguments based on that misinterpretation. An example would be understanding and assuming that all birds have wings. This is the truth. When we see that a penguin is a bird, our conclusion through the assumption is that the penguin has wings. The flaw in deductive reasoning happens when we argue that the penguin has wings, therefore the penguin is a bird. This is when you should step up and point out the reasoning as bullshit and wrong. Moving on, it is also imperative that the arguments don’t fall off the right truth. One example that has arguably left freshly-minted parents conflicted is whether breastfeeding leads to higher IQ, as compared to being bottle fed. When you friend/opponent argues for this and goes on and on, it’s time to shut his/her reign down. Time for your (or your argument’s) ascension to the throne of truth. “Comparatively small events like breastfeeding,” Dr Sophie von Stumm, from Goldsmiths, University of London, mentioned, “are very unlikely to be at the core of something big and complex as children’s differences in IQ.” And the if anything should get heated, it should be for ethics and morality. Having the improper (because right and wrong is debatable in ethics and morality) thought and decision making may lead us into believing things that are wrong by society’s standards. For example, you see a total of 5 random people strapped on a train track, 4 of them are strapped along the main rail, while one of the victims is strapped at the minor rail. You realise that the train is approaching really soon and you have a choice, based on a lever to either save one group or the other. The train will continue straight and kill those 4 people without your intervention, and one person should you choose to pull the lever and change its intended track. Long story short, this is a bad example, but it makes you think. Are they the type that will weigh the factor of numbers and “more is better than less”, or whether they have the right to play God and decide whether the group of 4 should live or die? But if there is a problem with morality and ethics, it should be easy to find out because most of us are wired in the same way anyway.

Almost a long read, I suppose. In short, as I have mentioned previously, it is not about who wins the argument, but rather, what the argument serves as. A friendly discussion on certain matters, or a deliberate attempt to speak truths in the lives of the people we care for? That, you will have to decide when you actually encounter this predicament.

Hubris

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light.” – Plato

Hubris. When you think you are better than your peers, and worse, above the law. In literature, more often than not, hubris leads to destruction – the downfall of many major characters which ultimately leads them to death. The fall of Macbeth, Anakin Skywalker, Saruman the White and even Goliath, the giant from Biblical times, are all attributed to their own Hubris. They got too obsessed with attaining power that they fail to realise that they are slowly being consumed by pride, and at the same time, losing their dominance and eventually their very lives. While we remember the theatrics of Macbeth and the screenplays of the various movies, it is imperative to draw from the hard truths that these characters impart to us, the audience. Hubris is a parasite that feeds on your ego and continues to poison your mind from seeing your own flaws and eventually, everyone, your loved ones, your close friends and every well-meaning individuals or groups, will be repelled by your own actions of mistrust, paranoia and self-destructive personality. It is a fatal flaw that the afflicted fail to notice early, and too late to rid themselves of the toxins.

Today, though we hardly face such dramatic individuals who are high on their heads on their proud personality and self-absorbed egotistical mentality. Nonetheless, it is prudent to notice such catastrophic behaviour in people because ultimately, in one way or another they will affect you, in minute proportions or beyond your tolerable capacity. Strike fast. And hit them where it hurts the most. Show them a mirror of themselves and convince them that they are on the wrong path. And chances are, they will disprove all that you’ve said and make up one or two excuses to dismiss your motion. It’s a developmental problem that should be addressed if you don’t want to see your friends suffer any more loss than they already did. The problem with a unhealthy mind is that they are the author of their own destiny. The negative willpower is strong and they will convince their way out of it, even if all you’ve said it true. And like a rat hobbles away at the sight of humans, your unwell friend will avoid all contact with the truth. Because truth hurts, but truth is necessary.

Authority

A baby has been called many things. Annoying, when we hear its blast of screams and cries in claustrophobic public spaces like buses and shopping malls. Cute, when we can’t help but to revel in encouragement and share its laugh and joy. Disgusting, when we actually have a hands-on in the familial duty of changing its diapers (ugh).

Of the many names the baby has been given, we hardly ever call it powerful. Sure, on rare occasions, we see babies on commercials, promoting products of varying kinds. (And to much success they do!)

Yet, as far as exploiting the use of human’s intrinsic care and compassion for babies, commercials are but the tip of the iceberg of a baby’s ability to greatness.

Our casual and carefree atmosphere was instantaneously shattered upon the coming of a sleeping baby. All our talks and giggles were put to a stop – some of us, an insignificant number, even held our breath in reverence. We were wary of our movements and actions. Meticulous in placing our glass of soda on the table, and gentle in our walk so as to not topple things down and make unnecessary noise. We don’t want to wake the sleeping disaster – for it will only devour our realities and frustrate the living hell out of us.

Back to the point, more often than not, we’re not oblivious to authority. Like the grand entrance of a sleeping baby, we recognise and respect its presence, and we were compelled to power down on our voices and excitement. Should we not acknowledge the authority that has been placed over our heads, to govern us and to guide us (though some are terrible in their job), we too will face the repercussions of recalcitrance.

Conscription of National Service, Court Order to Cease and Desist, and even something simpler and widely relatable like to obey the school’s catered timetable. Follow and there’ll be no problem with authority. Resist, rebel and run, boy, how difficult is it to conform?

Soft Bread and Crunchy Toasts

Waking up on a wonderful Monday morning, in preparation to start the work week with eggs and toasts coupled with a cup of Ceylon tea, I knew something was off before the day began. My toasts are soft. A petty remark, surely. But they’re meant to be crunchy, they are toasted after all, I thought to myself. I humbled myself, garnered some courage, and carefully made my way to the long counter where I started to relay my displeasure. “My toasts have become soft,” I exercised assertiveness in Mandarin, my local tongue. “Can I get a new set please?

No,” as she hammered her skewers on the grill, and shouted across in simple Mandarin. “You expect me to make a new batch of toasts for every customer’s complaints, just because it’s turned cold and soft? Well, we might as declare this joint bankrupt shall we?

Auntie,” I tried to make my pleas sound diplomatic and sincere, though I was fuming with intense rage at the trouble this scene is generating. “It’s really isn’t my fault. I’ve just received the toasts and immediately took a bite, only to crunch on softness and disappointment.

After taking some time to contemplate about this whole chaotic episode, I’ve decided to be the bigger, gracious man and let it go. And of course, leave the toasts where it should be, in the trash.

Though my day started off with disappointment, with soft toasts and eventually after the whole debacle, cold tea, I have learnt a lesson that I was already taught. Make no compromise on the values that set you apart, into who you’ve become, and leave when you have to make a compromising decision.

It may be a matter of bread now, but tomorrow a choice of righteousness for one’s freedom. Some seemingly minute experiences in life may pose as an innocuous event, but others are capable of stripping your dignity, your beliefs and your roots, slowly but surely. Quite an abstract idea derived from ordering toasts, but hey, an apple was a catalyst for the ‘discovery‘ of gravity.

Tainted

dddcArt. What is the definition of art? Many believe it to be the exploration and the exemplification of human creativity, a wise representation of the unique character that resides intrinsically in our minds. Or is the constriction and compromise of individualism to cookie-cutter constructs of society?

Success. We have been told to go school, learn something, get good grades, enter university and land a great job as a lawyer, doctor or even an investment banker. That is how our sacred society defines success for us – and in its demands, we are compelled to yield to these expectations that binds us. For anyone that aspires to be a writer, a teacher, a musician or even a soldier is gracefully greeted by woes of low-paying, long committing hours of little or no progress to one’s dream future. Killing the man long before he achieves some semblance of greatness.

Freedom. To obey and oblige, with the rules and regulations, demands and expectations of the republic, the military organisation and the law. There is no freedom. There is but what they will insist on calling an privilege. A form of entitlement that they, whoever chains us by our necks, have indisputably stripped us from our individualism and autonomy, and benevolently offers it back to us – through mundane jobs and flawed opportunities. We live our lives on high-horses, thinking (and believing) we own them, that we are the authors of our destiny, capable of crafting our new, novel roads to wherever we yearn to go. But in truth, we are merely pathetic pawns of the well-decorated, well-educated and seemingly objective people under the guise of what they formally refer themselves as, the government.

And yet, we are content with all these. There are hardly any qualms about the leadership of our nation, or any hesitation of a fresh university graduate to live her noble dream as a professional sculptor. We do not even care to steal a second glance at what we are literally doing, living our cyclical lives in an unoriginal cubicle, slamming the mass-produced buttons on our keyboards and desperately laughing at our bosses’ horrible jokes in hopes to redeem us from retrenchment when the day arrives. Are we already engineered to accept our fate of a cyclical life, going round and round the carousel only to end up at the death’s doorstep? A cradle to the grave. Society already has us squirming on our knees in capitulation of the drug that we have been taking since the birth of our consciousness. Satisfaction. Why?

Because our society has been poisoned. We have been tainted to feel what it is to have success, and painstakingly stripped it away from us, compelling us to go cold turkey, exasperating for more of what we do not have, what we cannot have. We have been tainted to believe in live and let live, to unwillingly accept the fate that we have unfairly drawn, and to serve society like we are servants, paying our pitiful penitence for our sins. The countless hours we spent on tolling and scrambling for our numerics and notations are all but the life of the worker bees. Rewarded with honey and nectar every now and then, we give our due diligence to the Queen of our society, and give it eternal dominance over our expendable lives. Have we lost our passion to fight for what is worth, and resist what is wrong? No.

All that, is just a matter of personal perspective.

Photo Credit: @guangjiesg

The End: A New Beginning

In an unprecedented twist of events, it seems like this humble soul will have to officially ORD. No, I’m not being disgraced from the Army, nor am I one of the rare, successful cases of early discharge. I predictably set myself up to sign on in the Army, and yet here I am, sitting at a quaint little café at Holland Ave, penning down what’s left of my national service and what’s to become of my great escapade.

In a short stint of 2 years in the service – which many, past and present, have undergone – I’ve finally come to a bittersweet conclusion. Forging true heartfelt and indelible friendships over the many courses that I braved through, and the unexpected enemies that I’ve made (which I probably wouldn’t have to face), all these are but the little takeaways that one like myself could possibly achieve through my service. I’ve nonetheless grown to appreciate like-minded individuals and empathise more with those that just doesn’t seem like “my cup of tea”.

Needless to say, I’ve certainly been through my own fair share of ‘scorch trials’ and hard lessons – some from my own incompetence and others from bad leadership atop. I do not dare make pitiful assumptions about what I’m about to speak, unabashedly if I may. I’ve seen great leaders in my time in the Army – and by great, I do not mean people with well-decorated embellishments or noteworthy credentials to their name. What matters most, beyond the artistic accolades that are tragically tied to your résumé, is the quality of the human heart – the very same heart we call weak and emotional, sometimes fragile. With the right methods and approach, great leadership can create an indelible impression that can impact one for life. And I’ve had the pleasant experience to be under the leadership of this great man, one whom everyone calls Angry Gary.

In every good man’s tale (though I do not own the privilege of being called one), there is a villain, hellbent to disrupt the cosmos of your very innocuous, yet heroic existence. For the mere purpose of not creating unnecessary trouble for myself and mindless gossip, I shall not name her. Disregarding her mannerism and speech, which is totally and completely ridiculous, she does not have the developed quality and character of a leader – and coming from the organisation in which I served, the Leaders were the top 10% of the entire system. And I always thought (and once truly believed) that we were chosen based off some genius algorithm that marks out the inherent quality that set us apart from the bourgeois. And with that, comes a chance to prove ourselves in leading our men. “Commanders,” they called us. But surely, one’s got to have the moral authority to live up to your rank, your insignia, your creed. Hamartia. That’s you. My encounter with her has taught me a few lessons, mostly through anger marked by indignation. And unfortunately, by choice or coincidence, our paths had crossed, in a violent turbulence, and needless to say, I hope she realises her follies and change.

“I lead my men by example,” so the creed rings, purposeful and righteous. I reflect upon my life in retrospect, criticising every decision, questioning every motive. Thankfully, without bias or double-standards, I’ve touched my heart with impartiality and have lived up to it. And surely, it is not because I was an Officer, nor was I a self-righteous, pompous ass that believed in the glory of the organisation. It was simply because I did my job, and lived up to my own expectations of it – though, these expectations might have faded through the passage of time. While I miraculously managed to achieve a small, yet important victory in this aspect (a moral victory, some will call it), I do not dare give myself the courtesy of being fulfilled. I remained mediocre, a basic worker bee, a cookie-cutter piece of work. The end is the end, and there’s hardly any purpose in predictable self-debate.

To summarise and simplify all that has been, the troubling times and the inconceivable ordeals that I just inadvertently happen to stumble across, I’ve learned many valuable lessons, by fire and fun. I’ve ironically understood the meaning of leadership being under the wing of someone who’s methodology and influence falls between the cracks. Despair and disappointment, emotions that I recognise all too easily, wrought my already soulless life in ruthless regimentation and strict discipline. Incessantly enveloped in dilemma and agonizing over lost friendships and relationships alike, I’ve learned how to gradually place my trust into the hands of the world’s author, my Lord. Alas, the end is here – though in the larger scheme of things, this is only but the beginning.

To Lead and take ownership of my life. To Excel in all that we do, by opportunity or by luck. To Overcome, a test of reliance in time to come.